Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Colorado Avalanche: Keys To Victory

October 17th, 2011 No Comments

Former Colorado Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles and the Toronto Maple Leafs will play host to the Avalanche tonight in what will surely be a close contest.

It will mark the first time Liles will face his old team since being acquired from the Avalanche this summer.

Liles has looked good early on, notching one assist and bringing an element of veteran leadership and offensive flare to the Maple Leafs roster.

Despite a lot of pre-season predictions saying the Avalanche would struggle this season, the Avs have started the season with a 4-1 record. The Avs are a perfect 4-0 on the road thus far, their only loss coming at home to the Detroit Red Wings.

Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov has been leading the Avs winning streak, posting a 3-1 record to go along with a stingy 2.17 goals against average and an impressive .938 save percentage.

Several eyebrows were raised when the Avalanche gave up a first round draft choice to acquire Varlamov from the Washington Capitals this summer, but, given the early results, it appears as if they may have made a good trade after all.

Offensively the Avs have been led by a combination of forwards and defensemen, with forwards Milan Hedjuk (2 goals, 2 assists), David Jones (3 goals, 1 assist) and Ryan O’Reilly (4 assists) leading the way at forward, while Erik Johnson (4 assists) and Ryan Wilson (4 assists) lead the way on the back end.

Rookie forward Gabriel Landeskog has two goals and three points through his first five games and appears to be playing the well-rounded, two-way game many scouts predicted of him.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a perfect 3-0 start.

It hasn’t been easy. The Maple Leafs nearly blew a huge third period lead against the Ottawa Senators before emerging with a 6-5 victory last Saturday, followed by a game in which the Leafs fell behind by a score of 2-0 to the Calgary Flames before clawing back, emerging with a 3-2 victory over the Flames on Saturday night.

Phil Kessel (5 goals, 3 assists) and Joffrey Lupul (2 goals, 3 assists) have been hot for the Maple Leafs, while Captain Dion Phaneuf (1 goal, 2 assists) has also looked solid through three games.

Tyler Bozak (3 assists, plus +5 rating) continues to prove that he can play a top-six forward position, filling in for the inured Tim Connolly as the first line centre.

On the back end, Cody Franson made his regular season debut for the Buds, earning 18:14 of ice time and looking good in all scenarios.

Leafs head coach Ron Wilson will have a tough decision to make as it appears as if the logjam on defense will continue to be a cog for debate amongst the fans. As great as Franson was, Jake Gardiner—the player that now finds himself in the press box due to Franson’s promotion—was also playing well before his demotion and, given he still has a lot to learn, would benefit from more game action.

With the Leafs top-four defensemen seemingly being written in stone (Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, John-Michael Liles, Luke Schenn) it appears as if one of Franson or Mike Komisarek (who has been a workhorse early on) will have to sit if Wilson wants to put Gardiner back into the lineup.

The Avalanche power play is humming along at a deadly 30 percent success rate, while their penalty killing has been more than acceptable at a success rate of 88.2 percent. Clearly, the Buds will have to take measures to stay out of the penalty box against the Avs, while taking measures to bolster their dwindling (11.8 percent success rate) power play.

The Maple Leafs and Avalanche both rely heavily on their goaltenders to get them out of trouble. Nothing less than a solid effort from both Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer (3-0-0 record, 2.33 goals against average, .927 goals against average) and the Avs Varlamov will do if the Leafs or Avalanche are going to win tonight’s tilt.

Look for the Maple Leafs to come out quickly in this game in an effort to avoid the 2-0 hole they put themselves in early on in the game against the Calgary Flames.

Look for Phil Kessel to continue his magic, while Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are my picks to have good games for the Avs.

***Update***Rumour has it J.S. Giguere will get the start tonight…puzzling…

Prediction: 3-2 Maple Leafs

Got a question? Got a gripe? Contact me at theslapshotpucktalk@gmail.com

Until next time,

Peace!

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